Interview by Zoë Brigley
“[When] I write poetry I always have an image in my mind. Even if the starting point is an emotion or a vague idea, I try to visualise it. Whether I include this initial trigger right away in the poem or I save it for later on is something I decide along the writing process“
Life has infinite possibilities: Α-Α Α-Β Α-Γ Α-Δ Α-Ε Α-Ζ Α-Η Α-Θ Α-Ι Α-Κ Α-Λ Α-Μ Α-Ν Α-Ξ Α-Ο Α-Π Α-Ρ Α-Σ Α-Τ Α-Υ Α-Φ Α-Χ Α-Ψ Α-Ω And this is only one alphabet, to start with. * I name each star with a letter of the Greek alphabet and stare at the language canvas: Meaning, history and possibilities expanding indefinitely over the shoulders of Atlas. We act what we say and say what we act. The world listens.
It is such an interesting idea to think about language by just fundamentally concentrating on the letters themselves and reminding ourselves of how written language began. What inspired you to start writing on this subject?
My mother language is Greek, which has an entirely different alphabet from English. When you start learning a foreign language, you start by learning the alphabet. I started learning English (and French) at school, which made me think of language as composed of letters rather than words. The same logic applies when visiting Greece. I like to spend time in local archaeological museums and I have a fascination with ancient inscriptions. I try to read the text carved on stone but I’m not very good in Ancient Greek. So, I start my reading by studying the letters (which are the same as in modern Greek), then slowly moving into words. My primary material in language is letters and I wanted my poem to depict exactly this.
There is an art to the short poem, which you are rather good at. Who inspires you in creating work in shorter forms?
I am a new poet and the current times are dominated by electronic devices. I feel I’m constantly receiving information from a constantly increasing number of sources. I consider my role as a poet is to filter this abundance of information, distil it and provide a brief and clear poetic image that keeps only the meaningful, the things that need to be said. Even when I write longer poems, I edit them heavily and cut most parts down. My aim is to generate small, crystal pieces that shed light to various moments of being. It is the job of the reader to expand, read through the layers of my text and decide whether it’s worth of multiple readings and further thought/development. My short poems initiate the discussion, they don’t complete it.
I love the idea of inscribing the stars with letters and creating that startling image: “the language canvas”. There is a tension in the poem between language and what happens in the physical world (“We act what we say and say what we act”), but language itself can be performative. I feel like the end of poem is full of possibilities which could be promising or sinister. How do you craft your endings?
First off, please let me say that you’re spot on about the tension between language and what happens in the physical world. The idea to close my poem in this way (“We act what we say and say what we act”) comes from my PhD, which puts forward a discursive analysis. My academic research delves into texts, searches for a text’s meaning(s) and examines whether meaning drives action. But there is a tricky question being raised: Do meanings, values and language drive certain action? Or do people act and then try to justify their act, by attaching several meanings and arguments to it?
With this poem and more generally, when I write poetry I always have an image in my mind. Even if the starting point is an emotion or a vague idea, I try to visualise it. Whether I include this initial trigger right away in the poem or I save it for later on is something I decide along the writing process. ´Language Matters’ for example started through the idea of letters as opportunities and I offered this idea upfront. Later, I kept thinking of the tension between language and action and I knew I had to end the poem centered around this tension. Therefore, my job was to build a narrative and poetic story ending with this point about words vs action. I would like to argue though that my endings are more of open questions than closing lines. It is up to the readers to drive the poem further. If they like the poem, that’s it!
Ilias Tsagas is a Greek poet writing in English and in Greek. His poems have appeared in journals like: Ambit, The Mechanics’ Institute Review, Beir Bua, SAND, FU Review, Plumwood Mountain and elsewhere. He has also published poems in anthologies like: Deviance by Toothgrinder Press and Disease by Carnaval Press. He works in the energy policy sector as a journalist and an academic.
You can follow him on Twitter @Ilias_Energia, and on Instagram @ilias.tsagas
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